Japanese cuisine was meat-free for centuries because of Buddhism. Yet, in 1854 traditions began to change as new trade deals with Western Countries were made. History says that in 1872, Emperor Meiji’s New Year feast was full of European treats, including meat. This feast is considered one of the catalysts for why meat is eaten in Japan today.
Despite the big change to Japanese cuisine, many traditions from the pre-1872 era remain. One of them is that rice continues to be a common staple in each meal.
This core dish of boiled white rice is always served on its own in a small bowl. Accompanying dishes are also served in their own bowls because Japanese tradition states that different flavored dishes should be kept separate.
Other pre-18th century traditions that remain include the use of chopsticks, which were introduced to the Japanese nobility centuries before meat. Another big tradition that remains in Japanese cuisine is the eating of sushi.
The Origin Of Sushi
Many people believe that sushi is Japanese, but it actually originated in China as a dish called narezushi in the 2nd century BC. It’s rumored that fish was salted and fermented in boiled rice to preserve it, which makes sense as people who consumed it back then would throw away the rice.
In the 15th century, the Japanese sped up the process of fermentation and by the 18th century, sushi restaurants were popping up in Edo, which later became Tokyo in 1868.
During the 18th century, sushi was still very different to how it is today, that was until Yohei Hanaya created nigiri sushi. Hanaya hand-pressed sushi, and even used wasabi and vinegared rice. Both practices continue today.
Japanese Cuisine Today
From meat-free Buddhism roots to the peak of culinary excellence.
In 2011, Japan took the crown from France as the nation with the most three-star Michelin restaurants worldwide. In 2020, the battle continues, Japan has 25 and France has 26. In comparison, the United States has 13.
In terms of cities, Tokyo alone has 217 Michelin star restaurants. Far more than any other city worldwide.
Popular Dishes In Japanese Cuisine
Miso soup: A famous traditional Japanese soup made with miso paste. It has a unique taste and numerous health benefits. This soup is a common side dish and usually drunk daily.
Tempura: Tempura consists of meat, seafood, or vegetables covered in a deep-fried batter made from egg and flour. The fried treats are usually dipped in tentsuyu sauce, which is made from kombu, mirin, and soy sauce.
Udon: A traditional Japanese dish consisting of thick noodles made with flour and salt water. Udon can be served hot or cold with tempura fried ingredients, or just with a seafood broth.